TABLE-TOPPERS Tonbridge face one of the strongest and most entertaining sides of the Bostik Premier when they line-up for the crunch clash with Bognor.
The unbeaten guests, always a free-scoring attacking side at Isthmian level, are back in the league following a one-season spell in the National South.
They were relegated after finishing bottom of the table.
This term, four wins and five draws have been recorded from nine matches.
Previously, elevation had been earned via the play-offs at the end of 2016/17. A couple of days after the triumph, the-then boss Jamie Howell took over at Eastbourne Borough, on May 3.
The Rocks were in the running for the championship and automatic slot for most of the campaign, but pipped in the end by an expensively-assembled Havant & Waterlooville.
The Hawks had plunged from the Conference South a year earlier and were determined to return at the first attempt. A hawkish recruitment policy, including swoops for pedigree talent along the coast, proved successful at the expense of the Nyewood Lane outfit.
The pair had contrasting fortunes at a higher tier, with soaring success savoured in Portsmouth suburbia, but struggle stomached in seaside Sussex. The campaign concluded with one up and one down.
So, Bognor are back at Longmead with the scoring boots discovered again – just ask Burgess Hill Town. The Hillians, regular trapdoor escapees, sometimes courtesy of reprieves, arguably face an uphill task to stay in the division again. Morale would not have been helped by a midweek Nyewood nightmare that finished in an eight-goal humiliation. The 8-0 battering, on October 2, provided a significant chunk of the Rocks’ total tally of 26, an average of nearly three per league outing.
As well as showing scintillating striking skills, the Sussex side can stage a fightback too. A few days earlier, on Saturday September 29, the team travelled to Potters Bar and drew 2-2 after going two goals down.
The Angels have also faced the Hertfordshire club recently, with Steve McKimm’s table-toppers clinching a 2-1 home triumph, last weekend (October 6).
The vital victory provided Tonbridge with a four-point cushion at the pinnacle of the Bostik Premier.
The clash against Bognor is the biggest battle of the season so far. The opponents are almost certainly going to be involved in the championship chase and the prolific target-hitting is an ominous sign for rivals.
The West Sussex men also know what is needed for a long promotion campaign and familiar with bouncing back from adversity.
As well as the recent demotion, a downturn was experienced at the end of the “noughties”. The team dropped from the National South to the Isthmian Division One, in consecutive seasons (2008/09 and 2009/10). Fortunes also suffered after a fire destroyed the social club in August 2008, requiring provision of a replacement building.
Dealing with the latest relegation, just a year after earning elevation, should be a minor challenge for an outfit with a formidable fighting spirit. Much of the character will have been shaped over several decades by one of the most influential figures in the southern region of non-league soccer.
The hugely-popular Jack Pearce has undertaken pretty much every task behind the scenes at Nyewood Lane, since initially arriving as a player approximately half-a-century ago. Later, long stints as manager put Bognor well and truly on the football map, largely as a result of giant-killing exploits.
The veteran became boss in the mid-1970s, while he was in his mid-20s. The sterling servant remained at the helm for the majority of three decades and although others have taken charge of the squad periodically, he has fulfilled roles such as General Manager.
Possibly the only job title that has not had the name Jack Pearce against it, could be “Chief cook and bottler washer”.
Joking aside, even when supposedly only responsible for the playing staff, he helps behind the scenes, sometimes even operating a one-man ticket office.
Before the biggest game in Town’s history, against Swansea City in 1984/85, I have it on good authority he fielded phone calls and enquiries about the clash. Two Tonbridge fans enjoyed the contest, courtesy of a man named Jack Pearce who organised tickets for collection at the turnstile. Thank you.
(It is difficult imagining someone such as Jose Mourinho manning a telephone line and dealing with the hoi polloi ahead of a crucial match!)
There certainly would have been plenty of bottles to wash after the Rocks stunned the Swans with a superb 3-1 victory in the FA Cup! The initial First Round Proper tie in Wales concluded 1-1, before the thrilling midweek magnificence in front of a full-house in the Sussex seaside resort.
Reading FC ended the excitement at the next stage of the competition when the Royals won 5-2 at Elm Park.
Funnily enough, in charge of the on-field fortunes in the modern era, is a certain Mr Pearce. The club loyalist, now aged in his mid-to-late-60’s, according to this writer’s arithmetic, has yet again assembled one of his trademark footballing sides.
His own performance is impressive, with an approximate 40 per cent win record from a massive figure of around 1,300 games in charge at Nyewood Lane. Most of the matches were between 1976 and 1992, then a second spell from 1994 to 2007.
He currently tackles two positions, as General Manager and First Team Manager.
The contest is a considerable test for the Angels, but this time it should not be daunting for a squad top of the table on merit and by four points. The men from Longmead are five clear of their third-placed guests, as a result of seven victories, a draw and a defeat from the opening nine league fixtures.
The Bostik Premier match between Tonbridge and Bognor Regis Town on Saturday October 13 at Longmead Stadium, Darenth Avenue, is a 3pm kick-off.
Adults entering the ground before 2.15pm on the day will be entitled to pay a reduced admission fee of £5 (it is usually £11).
There is a large FREE car park at the venue.
Picture: Wes Filtness
Updated 19:58 - 13 Oct 2018 by Jim Rowe